Tag Archives: Strategy

Beyond a beautiful tension: brand ideas and cultural conflict

1 Jul

An old JWT planning manual channeling the wisdom of Stephen King read once, “we believe that all insights spring from tension between or within ‘human truths’ (i.e. Maslovian needs that transcend cultural or geographic boundaries) and ‘cultural truths’ (i.e. motivations that differentiate).”

Tensions have always been at the heart of great communication and creativity whether that’s in a well crafted proposition like “Dirt is Good” or the tensions inherent in dialogic literature where “a plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousness, a genuine polyphony of fully valid voices” are not subject to the authoritative control of the author.

A tension is the grit around which you can build a great brand idea.

But now brand ideas are being challenge to do more. They must go beyond messaging and through the layers of the business and really count. Their impact on the world is expected to be more purposeful and meaningful, they are challenged to be, ultimately, cultural.

In a world of adblocking, ad-blindness, privacy fears and noise exhaustion being “part of culture” is an excellent choice that offers the potential for brands to be distinctive by giving people something of value they actually want to experience as well as helping them achieve the “Job to be done”.

The challenge is that “Culture”, like the other C-word “content”, has become a buzzword. It seems that for the last few years every brand and agency is talking about “creating culture” and how

“The best [ideas] make a poignant cultural point. Not a business problem, but cultural tension that you find. This one is a little meta and about advertising. If it’s great work, you can see exactly how it affects the culture,” Jason Marks, executive creative director of Partners + Napier in New York.

Diageo have even hired a “Head of Culture”.

Unfortunately everyone seems to have a different definition of culture.

An official OED definition of culture is “the ideas, customs & social behaviour of a particular people or society“. This sets a far more ambitious objective for any work. It means more than creating opportunities for associations, sponsorships or product placement, more than working with famous designers and artists to create fashionable packaging or a temporary PR-driven Pop-up or even hoping that an ad catchphrase will “Simples” it’s way into common parlance.

A desire to have culturally relevance and impact gives brands at first two choices: to co-opt or to co-create? Do you seek to “borrow”, support and nurture external cultural creators – be an advocate of them so that they and the people they inspire are advocates of you? Or do you take the harder road of identifying unmet cultural needs and working with communities to tackle them head on?

This difficult later approach may mean building and judging brand ideas and creative work not by traditional proposition, messaging or tracking KPIs but the “6 elements of news”.

Beyond tension to conflict

Perhaps if anyone can lay claim to operating at the fast coalface of culture it is journalists. At journalism school students learn to ask the four Ws (What, Where, When, Why) alongside finding sources but also develop the inherent ability to interrogate a story for its strength relative to the 6 elements of news: Timeliness, Proximity, Prominence, Consequence, Human Interest, and Conflict.

The last element, Conflict, brings us back to the tension at the heart of a great brand idea but also pushes us on to a new territory appropriate for a new post-digital world.

Traditionally brands love anyone and anything. A conservative, mainstream brand wouldn’t dream of picking a fight. A mass market brand is for everyone. But as the aphorism goes, if you design for everyone, you design for no one.

Ryanair famously built to maximum saliency in the budget airline space on conflict and customer masochism. Protein World’s 2015 tube poster campaign sparked 40,000 people who would never buy their product to sign a petition but in 4 days it also helped acquire 5,000 new customers and online notoriety that barely scrapped through to its Instagram-fitness-model heartlands.

These are obviously extreme examples but brand ideas like Dove, Sunlight or even Yorkie with its old “Not For Girls” ads, show that brands can be culturally relevant by standing against something – and it doesn’t have to be something obvious.

If you compare these brand ideas against the 6 elements of news they achieve a high score on at least 3 or more of the heuristics as well as being created with distribution baked in.

This inspired me to make a canvas and test it out to see if there might be a way to build “Cultural Value Propositions” or Brand Ideas. Lovingly “informed” by the Business Model Canvas, this framework challenges us to ask how we make brands count and to ask,

  • What value do we deliver to the individual or the community?
  • How do we add value not noise?
  • Which cultural needs are we satisfying?

Cultural_idea_canvas_poster.pdfCultural Ideas that count

It is open source so please have a go yourself and let me know if it works for you. While the canvas places all the heuristics on the same level I do think that ability to encompass Conflict could help a brand be truly distinctive in our brave new post-digital world.

If we are to create ideas and experiences that “create culture” then we should learn from outside our industry and one source is news and entertainment with their inherent feel for what creates human interest and culture.

In this way it is perhaps no surprise that the only work in the last few years that has truly effected culture, “the ideas, customs & social behaviour of a particular people or society“, is Channel 4’s Superhumans for the Paralympics…done by 4Creative, a creative agency within a broadcaster.

35164_124898_PARA_48sheet

But maybe that’s an argument for another day.

Creating a digital response – work that is good enough to share

27 Apr

The JWT Planning god, Stephen King once wrote “a good advertising idea has to be original enough to stimulate people and draw an intense response from them”.

I was thinking in this vein the other day about both the work we see produced in the industry these days and how we are increasingly asking ideas to behave, particularly online. In the spirit of sweeping generalisations I’d argue that the work produced divides into 3 categories: Good, Bad and Meh.

Good work is the stuff we all look at and wish we had done (or have done if you’re lucky), it has creative soul, creates an “intense response”, builds the brand and sells. It is rarer. We know it when we see it and should always aspire to it.

Bad work – we all know it when we see it. It lacks the love and the craft, it has the strategy (if there is one) showing through the seams and makes your toes curl up when you see it. But it does create a response. You do notice it and while you may not feel favourably about the creative, you are aware of what it is selling. It is also likely to be those ads the industry hates but the public remembers in a “we buy any comparing of your mum going to iceland via specsavers” way. There’s much more of it than Good work and it has a business effect even if we give it Turkey of the week.

Which leads to Meh work. Meh is the majority of the work we (don’t) see and hear on TV, in posters and online. It’s wallpaper, it’s ignored even though it’s probably been focus grouped to within an inch of its life and everyone got the KMA. There’s no response. It is everywhere and when we see it we just go “meh” and move on. I’d argue that if there is a choice between Meh and Bad choose bad, at least no one got killed making it and hopefully not much money was spent in the process.

It was this idea of intense response that made me think about digital work and how we want it to behave these days.

There is no such thing as a “Go virals on the interwebs” formula.

There’s no such thing as a brief for a “viral”.

But we do ask for our work to be shared more and more – it’s not just the confetti of Facebook Like and Tweet This buttons covering the web, it’s often part of the strategy or client brief. If we write “make it shareable” on a creative brief, it’s a bit like writing “make it good”. The answers is yes, of course, now what the hell do you mean by that?

Which led me to put together a diagram based on a collection of sources, theories and bits of research – which I tend to do if I’m trying to work something out. Generally involving circles.

If something is going to be good enough to share with the small numbers of people closest to us online – our friends, colleagues and family plus maybe that network of weak tie people who may notice us in their feeds – then first it has to create a response and then it needs to enable people to get a benefit or value out of sharing.

Stephen King talks about an “intense response” but one way of thinking about this is to consider it as a “physical response” – whether that is shivers going down your spin, your eyes opening wider, your mouth watering or that look on your face when you are surprised or realise something that should have been obvious.

But being good enough to cause a response is only the first step. There also needs to be a reason to share – whether that is selfish or altruistic – that encourages people to go to the effort of posting that link or writing 140 characters of witty commentary. No-one likes to be old hat so if there can be a sense of timeliness or being on the upward curve of popularity then this can contribute to the odds of the work being seen as “Good enough to share”. Then the work stands a chance.

If – and it is a big if – an idea can achieve this then our challenge as strategists and creatives is to address the mechanics of modern sharing. We need to make it easy to share by breaking the idea (or even in some cases the brand) into “atomic units” that can be experienced in different contexts by different audiences and communities.

At its simplest this process involves identify the themes, communities, sites and assets needed (from bespoke emailed pitches to animated gifs, short titles/description that tease and are detailed enough to be engaging but don’t give it all away, supercuts, image macros or behind the scenes photos) to encourage and make sharing easy, at its more complex it involves treating your brand or idea like an API. This relates to the increasingly common challenge we face as agencies with getting more value from our ideas and budgets – “skinning the pig” – but also meeting even more multichannel requirements.

A simple example is below. A few months back JWT made a film for the Male Cancer Awareness Charity called Rhian Touches Herself. We were very lucky in that some very talented people gave their time for a worthy cause (full story here). We were also lucky in that the idea caused a “physical response” (if you haven’t seen it I won’t say…), gave an excuse to Strengthen Bonds, got people to respond to each other and we managed to ride and reinforce an upward curve of popularity for a good cause for a period of time. There are probably better case studies out there but I’d argue it is good start.

So what is planning and strategy now we’re all digital?

9 Dec real-invaders

There seems to be a lot of debate going on about the role and value of planning and strategy within agencies.

Planners and strategists sometimes like to ask why and reframe questions multiple times, but if we’re to avoid risking the old recursive logic loop/analysis paralysis/navel-gaving problem, I think in this case it may be good to question what we’re really debating?

I don’t think it is just the role of planning.

From the Redscout and PSFK content stream to comment pieces like this, these debates actually seem to me to point to being about more than planning.

I think they’re about the role of agencies in a digital world, a world where one day there won’t be “digital” agencies or departments, just agencies that produce great ideas with a digital DNA.

It is in this context that I’ve been exploring the idea that agencies need to help brands to function as both enabler (of services, content, utility, entertainment) and filter (of noise, relevance, need) for people in order to have a role beyond passive loyalty. Brands not only need a position within a market/category but must also have a clear point of view their role in the world and as a contributer to the culture of their purchasers. This way agencies can evolve to help our clients to solve business problems in a culturally and practically positive way.

Strategy and Planning is in the ideal position to lead this process.

Planning and strategy needs to be more about doing. It needs to be involved in collaborative agile scrums with creatives or technologists to help shape the structure and effectiveness of a response, not just had over a brief.

Insight generation seems to be built all too frequently around the barriers to communication but it could be more about potential benefits, understanding, utility and cultural opportunities if strategic planning were to spread upstream in the process and even get involved in client NPD.

But spreading influence up and downstream should not mean diluting deeper analysis and thought to become a Jack of all trades.

It is vital that the deep dive, research methodology of good strategic planning and insight generation is maintained.

We can do this by exploring the culture and narrative around the challenge we are exploring and building a robust understanding of people in terms of their actions (What they do), the social context (Who they do the action with) and motivation (What they think or feel).

By definition insight occurs when people recognise relationships or make associations between objects and actions that can help them solve new problems. Insight generation is about recognising relationships that are already there or that can be created when two disparate facts/conditions come together. It is similar to the way the famous Telegraph cartoonist Matt described his art as, “putting two unconnected news stories together” to come up with something entertaining that makes you think about both the stories in new ways.

In this context strategy and planning is a creative act.

So instead of working alone, perhaps planners could adopt the partnership or team structure used in creative departments to combine different skillsets or areas of expertise (data/financial modeling paired with behavioural & technology insight)?

Admittedly some of this may sound like the protestations of a reformed sinner – having returned* to strategy/planning about a year and a half ago after 9 years as a hybrid creative and digital strategist I still have my little creative strops – but I think it is the external perspective on what planners do that is important.

We need to be the most effective people in the room, not the most intelligent.

So why is there a picture of Space Invaders at the top of this post? Because it is a great image (from a T-Shirt on Threadless, go and beg them to reprint more!) and because I think it is a great metaphor for planning and strategy – creating unexpected value by looking at the world from a deeper and different angle.

—————

* Thanks to Trevor Wright the Planning Director at IMC who took me on many moons ago as a fresh faced, mop-topped grad, and gave me a position as a “Strategic Planner and New Media Manager” (big title with a small but gratefully accepted paycheck) before kicking me off to the creative/tech department after a couple of years when he realised that the agency “could plan anything but it wouldn’t matter if you can’t deliver it”. You can find him at Westminster Business School these days and I definitely recommend it.

Clouds, Crowds and Brand Reality Creative – distributed creativity and information, collaborative tools and ideas.

6 Oct

This is a whitepaper on near, medium and long term interactive creative and strategy that I wrote at the end of the summer in response to a “what should we be doing/thinking next?” question from several clients. It covers my belief that the semantic web leads to the need for a new way of approaching creative and content challenges – that the old “objective correlative” way of advertising and marketing has to evolve to a “Brand Reality Creative” approach which will hopefully be a step beyond “Brand Utility”. The paper can be downloaded here or found on my website  (http://www.davidjcarr.com/clouds_crowds_whitepaper.pdf) and I will post a blog-friendly version shortly.

In fact it starts here…

Interactive or digital? Big ideas or rich ideas?

14 Jul

When people start talking about the “digital space” I always react with the belief that “interactive is a philosophy not a channel”. It’s not the technology, it’s what you do with it that counts. And even more importantly, why you do it.

An old presentation I used to give to students in my militant phase was subtitled “Stop folding TV ads and learn how interactive works” and while I may have mellowed a bit in my old age – the trousers might disagree – a lot of the interactive creatives I’ve been interviewing lately still rail against the notion that digital is a place you can lever a “big idea” into given enough lube.

Mass ATL media was based on the concept of a simple “big” idea, a single proposition or USP delivered in a linear form. It was a bit like Don Simpson’s idea of High Concept movies – without the coke and hookers and Tom Cruise “Playing with the boys”.

For the old BDAs in advertising this would mean a 60/30 TV ad, a couple of press executions and, if you were really lucky, it would stretch to a bit of radio. Then someone would take it downstairs to the “digital” boys in the basement a week before launch and you’d end up with a flash game. Sounds bitter? Maybe. But really it was the communications process mistaking a Big execution for a Big Idea. The Gorilla worked for Cadbury not because it was a big, great execution (it was) but because of the rich idea of “Joy” that underpinned it. The second ad, just like the later Sony ones after Balls, seemed to loose sight of this and in the process seemed to loose its Soul.

Hopefully this cliché is dead or at least dying despite some BDA’s attempts to resurrect it.

Instead it should be about looking for a Rich Idea as a starting point. And Interactive is fundamental to this approach.

Interactive is about a multilevel proposition or complex idea delivered in a non-linear narrative. The ideas or narratives are assembled by people or, better still, used by people in the form of an application or entertainment, a slideshow, interaction, video player, service or personalisation that is useful, usable and delightful.

It’s lots of rich ideas rather one big one. A journey from A to C to D to B to E, not A to B.

At Chemistry we’ve channeled this into a set of 6 interactive creative principles:

Empathy
Understand and appreciate the people you are talking to on their own terms without shouting. Promote their point of view.

Permission
Talk don’t push. We have no right to talk to anyone, it has to be on their terms and they have to give us permission or it is just so much extra noise.

Appropriate Intervention
Do things when it is right not just because you can. Technology lets us target according to time of day, part of a journey or behavioural activity.

Relevant Conversation
Talk about what they’re interested in and what they want based on what they have been doing and previous conversations.

Action/Interaction
Be playful, be useful. React and reward.

Reality
The real world will always trump the virtual. Show and connect, don’t tell. Take interactive into the real world. The internet isn’t computers talking to computers, it’s people.

In practice these are then channelled via a mix of acquired/borrowed/learnt/ever growing beliefs that we can use to create a way of working.

• You can’t know everything but you can be open to anything
• Do good stuff
• Do fun stuff
• Do useful stuff
• Take ideas and don’t be precious with them
• Push the ideas into shapes and places that people, not marketers, are interested in
• Tell a deeper, more involving story – but know when to be shallow
• Try to create technical and cultural innovations not the same old shit
• Let people be playful and explore
• Don’t be difficult
• Have smarter conversations with people
• Have entertaining conversations with people

Part of this means the death or evolution of the old Ad team model. The work is too complex for the old model to work. The idea is in effect the easier part – not that good ideas are ever that easy. Making it happen and making it easy to use and engaging is the hard bit, hence it is now about a collaborative effort. Teams need to be prepared to share or even give up their ideas at an early stage and get much more involved in the production process; a process that needs to be predominantly in-house if you want to have control, collaboration and flexibility, to play and to learn.

So if your BDA comes wielding a big idea you might want to decline and ask for a rich one instead and spend less time on the digital and more on the interactive.

Online advertising thoughts

8 Jul

I was asked to get involved with a Marketing Week article about online advertising the other day and it was going to be a debate about creativity in online advertising and whether it was burnt out. In the end a follow up chat on the mobile while dashing across a car park became part of this but I wanted to explore the more interesting original idea.

In terms of my pitch into the idea of “is online advertising creativity dead” or “is the medium dead”…

We currently have two strategies of approach to online advertising: Tactical+ and Brand Reality.

The key is not to let similar creative executions run across all sites – great results come from integrated creative placements so you need to achieve a closer relationship between creative strategy and media strategy. This is where Tactical+ creative for “Browsing site placements” come in – giving all the information people need but not taking someone out of their journey – but measurement KPIs have to shift towards interaction rates and post-impression clicks. The idea is to cut through the clutter and reward interaction by applying brand creative values to direct transactional executions.

This approach is the one we’ve taken for some Emirates work like:

Newcastle Timelapse – Newcastle campaign as a whole got 12million interactions 270% rate, but Timelapse had a 5% CTR from 900,000 impressions despite it having a very small click-thorough area and being in the mail section of MSN.

Or for the TfL Oyster iTunes campaign for Auto top-up:

You can put as much content and experience in a banner ad as you used to put in a micro-site and you get more of a brand impact by not asking user to leave the site they are on or interrupt what they are doing. Download free content, play games, take part in polls and watch videos without having to go anywhere and as these units become more consistent, people will be more ready to interact with them. But you have to push the engagement, creativity and design which is what we have done with some other Emirates work like the Ladybird Execution (http://emirates.chemdig2.co.uk) or:

Or even some of the campaigns I worked on at my previous agency for the Army, like Army on Everest (don’t get me started I’ll go on for hours).

Obviously you need strong CTAs and offer driven work for Affiliates to ensure take up (they aren’t and never will be interested in interaction KPIs) and you need to know when to be shallow – particularly on “transactional site placements”.

I see the long-term future of online advertising as Brand Reality Creative. Online advertising should be semantic windows on personally relevant content and live, real events and features. Interactive work is not interesting because it is digital, it is interesting because it provides a way for real people to connect and do things together – social networking was just the village pump on a global scale where we used social media and applications to present aspects of our real or imagined personalities. It is this reality and content that will be sought after and valued, and online advertising needs to evolve to account for this or else it will be filtered out and switched off. It needs to be valuable in itself and get people closer to content and reality.

So I don’t think creativity is dead but it definitely needs to perk-up a bit. I think we need to stop the delusion that people leap out of their chair when they see an ad and actually try and make advertising useful instead.

Brands as people

8 Jul

This is an old one jotted down while I was still at Publicis. We were basically trying to communicate that brands can’t act like an aggressive inhuman force and get away with it anymore; that it is the human touch and empathy that works best in interactive. It also was part of a lecture I did at Westminster University called “Stop SHOUTING and start talking”.

Soon I’m going to collect up the old titles, and alternative titles (born of old English Lit habits and semi-tongue in cheek sarcasm), of all the talks and presentations I’ve done over the years to plot how things have changed since 1999. Anyway…I think this was meant to be delivered in deep gravelly voice like Don LaFontaine – the king of trailers. Anyone got a scrolling starfield I can borrow?

…In the beginning there were Brands. Brands were alone. They were a single idea repeated until people gave in or got bored. They had control of their communications because they had the money to access the expensive mediums of mass communication. They could shout the loudest and for the longest time. But despite all the shouting they did, they existed in isolation.

Then technology and people’s attitudes changed. Technology allowed people the same access to communication that Brands had. Technology was the great leveler.

Now Brands are like people.

People are richer, deeper, more complex and far more interesting.

Brands are like people and people don’t shout at each other, they talk.

People crave transparency and honesty. People act differently in different places but they are always the same person. They engage in leaping, wide-ranging conversations that can take any turn, uncontrolled by a single person. People smell an agenda and blatant manipulation. They can decide who is worth talking to and easily warn others if something is not worth the effort. Technology has made people living proof of the “6 degrees of separation” rule and as they are exposed to more and more connections so their expectations and attitudes are changing faster and faster.

This is the real world and this the real relationship in which brands and people now exist – a person to person relationship.

Brands are about more than loving a logo or cookie cutter identity reproduced in every possible space.

We want to get Brands speaking like people and to people, speaking in a way that is appropriate to the location of the conversation. We want to help Brands involve people in shaping their communications, products and the company they keep. We want to help Brands engage people and exceed their rapidly evolving expectations in all the many places that these conversations are happening, and in all the new places that they will take place.